Leisure Festival takes over Dreamland in Margate for the first time, with a line-up celebrating female talent.
Possibly one of the most fun locations for a festival, we were at Dreamland in Margate for Leisure Festival last Friday. Dreamland is a really cool beachside amusement park, with a permanently fixtured stage and events space that regularly hosts major artists and events. Earlier this month, Noel Gallagher played a show here, and future artists include De La Soul, Paul Weller, and Rudimental. Last Friday though, the focus was on Leisure Festival, an extremely well-curated line-up of female artists. At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately with just one day’s notice, bedroom-pop singer Clairo pulled out due to a positive covid test. She was swiftly replaced with Tiktok stars Surf Curse, which although a fantastic addition to the line-up, were no replacement for the singer often credited with starting the bedroom pop genre.
We’re no strangers to a debut year festival, having been at the greatly successful KITE festival just a few weekends ago. With that in mind, we are particularly expectant of some teething errors and general clunkiness for these first-timer festivals. However, at times the disorganization of Leisure Festival surprised even us. Thankfully, the pain of the scheduling mayhem was soothed by a stacked line-up of stellar artists.
I ended up seeing HighSchool by accident. We were waiting outside the indoor stage for what we thought would be CMAT, who was running late by about half an hour. It was actually much worse, the first band HighSchool were still getting ready to play, meaning the delay was upwards of an hour.
HighSchool still managed to pull off a great set, the Aussie goth-pop outfit got through a mixed bag of new-waveesque goth-pop tunes, and some tracks that felt a little more indie. Not a bad way to open the stage, just a real shame about the delays. The festival was meant to have very few clashes, but this delay threw that into jeopardy.
Concerned about the delays and clashes, I reached out to Leisure, who told us that updated times would be posted shortly. These times never appeared. Instead, the festival posted about five minutes before each artist was due to appear, and only for some artists. This was fine for the many people that were focused on the headliner. However, for fans of artists lower down the line-up and the artists themselves this was a major issue. How is an artist going to pull a crowd if no one knows when they’re playing?
I next headed over to the colourful mainstage for the last-minute Clairo replacement, Surf Curse. Made famous by their TikTok hit Freaks, the band delivered super-high energy in a massively enthusiastic and playful set. The audience at Leisure was about perfect for a band like Surf Curse, consisting mostly of young people that have grown up with TikTok and the music it has both produced and popularised. This set confirmed they were not a one-hit-wonder, and had a number of powerful tunes in their repertoire.
This was album release day for Soccer Mommy, and so this set was almost more celebration than performance. The indie artist presented tracks from the brand new Sometimes, Forever, and had the Margate audience enchanted.
Next up I headed back to the indoor stage. I was there to catch Nilüfer Yanya, but with no communication from the festival about the delay, I had no idea when she was actually playing. Getting to the stage early, I managed to catch the last half of an incredible set from Sorry. This London five-piece has everything that’s great in a live band. They are super tight and well-rehearsed, can command a crowd, and most importantly have the tunes to get a crowd moving. This is a band that is ready to rise even higher up the ranks than they already have.
This was the standout set of the day for me. Nilüfer Yanya is one of the most underrated artists around, and I’m sure it won’t be long until she becomes a familiar name in more mainstream music circles. Her latest album Painless is sonically mature, carefully crafted, and proves she is ready to break through to the top.
Her set was superb, but due to the stage delays, only the more dedicated Nilüfer fans were around, with most festivalgoers heading for Mitski. This was a real shame in my view, as there was a real opportunity to showcase Yanya’s music to an unfamiliar audience, wasted by delays.
Nilüfer’s stage demeanor can be quite reserved, but never off-putting. Her unique style and musical quality speaks for itself.
Confessedly, Mitski’s music and performance does nothing too exciting in my view. However, as I headed over to catch the last part of her set, it was clear there was an army of superfans at Leisure Festival in complete disagreement.
The indie singer had a legion of fans electrified and passionate for the full duration of her set, to an extent achieved by no other artist that day. As she moves through a set of intensely personal songs, she expressively glides and dances across the stage, often mimicked by an audience totally locked in with her every move.
Although it’s not my bag, her ability to move her audience in the way she does is admirable.
Leisure Festival – Final Thoughts
The biggest victory of Leisure Festival was its line-up. Intentional or not, the bill gave far more attention to female music and female artists than is typical. It represents a step in the right direction toward more balanced line-ups, ultimately improving the experience of music for everyone, not just women. The other great aspect of this festival was its location. Dreamland is an awesome space to host an event like this, and suited the mood of the day perfectly. What unfortunately damaged the experience was the poor management of the major delays. Delays are common, and that’s fine, but Leisure’s lack of communication caused a lot of confusion and genuinely affected artists and attendees. I’m really hoping Leisure will be back next year, hopefully with a similar style of line-up, and an improvement in communication.